Doctor Who nicked my plot and all I got was a mention in this lousy feature

How writers plundered sci-fi, literature, films and more

Das Reboot

There are many more examples of 1970s and 1980s Who plots ported from others’ source code: David Fisher’s Androids of Tara is Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda; Underworld, The Horns of Nimon and The Time Monster borrow great wedges of Greek myth; Chris Bidmead’s Castrovalva wouldn’t be what it is without the art of MC Escher; Peter Grimwade’s Mawdryn Undead relies on the Flying Dutchman story; Glen McCoy’s atrocious Timelash namechecks HG Wells and many of his works. But these are deliberate references - the audience is expected to spot the connections. And then, of course, you get a story like Christopher Bailey’s Kinda which just pelts you with references, literary, filmic and religious. And still manages, rubber snake aside, to be one of Doctor Who’s very few and finest attempts at really intelligent SF. Steve Gallagher’s splendid pseudonymous story Warriors’ Gate is another.

Doctor Who: Kinda

Kinda: great sci-fi... but don’t mention the rubber snake, OK?
Source: BBC

In later years, Doctor Who’s production teams would increasingly comprise writers and editors who had grown up with British TV in the 1960s and 1970s rather than popular potboilers and black-and-white movie thrillers. Inspiration from movies become more tangential and, oddly, as a result more disappointing.

I can still recall the groans of the audience I was a part of as the watched Sylvester McCoy story Dragonfire for the first time with its woefully sub-H R Giger xenomorph and a team of space marines fearfully using their motion trackers to monitor the invisible approach of the deadly aliens [surely ‘two pickelhuber-helmeted goons with a red flashing light attached to their pathetic, plastic toy-like guns’ - Ed].

The design of the Ergon in 1983’s Arc of Infinity channels Giger’s Alien too, as does the Vanir armour in Terminus with the Sutton Hoo helmet topping it to reflect the story’s Norse mythology references, Old Norse and Germanic paganism being close enough for the latter to reflect the former.

Doctor Who: Dragonfire

‘I have HR Giger’s lawyer on the phone...’
Source: BBC

Stephen Wyatt’s Paradise Towers script borrows heavily from J G Ballard’s High Rise, a sinister tale of locked-in residents running amuck. It could have been brilliant, as per the dystopian novel, but the whole structure collapses as comedy, both intentional - Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 funny play Arsenic and Old Lace was an inspiration too - and unintentional, dissolves the foundations.

By the time of Doctor Who’s 2005 revival, writers were being inspired by the series itself, and its many post-cancellation spin-off works. Rebooter Russell T Davies even commissioned writers Rob Shearman, Paul Cornell and Stephen Moffatt to regenerate stories they’d already written for, respectively, Big Finish audio productions, Virgin Books and the Doctor Who Annual. Yes, Dalek; Human Nature and The Family of Blood; and Blink all had lives before they were ported to the small screen. When Moffatt took over control of the programme from Davies, he commissioned Gareth Roberts’ to turn the latter’s Doctor Who Magazine one-off comic strip The Lodger into a story for the 2010 season.

Pop will, as they say, eat itself.

Doctor Who: City of Death

Douglas Adams raided his contributions to City of Death for Dirk Gently material
Source: BBC

Incidentally, it works the other way too. Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams was once a Doctor Who Script Editor and writer. Many years later, he travelled in the opposite directection to plunder his Who scripts The City of Death and the unfinished, unbroadcast Shada for material to include in his 1987 novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Today’s Doctor Who is no less inspired by other media than the ‘classic series’ was, though writers now seem keener to be more subtle in their borrowings, taking broad ideas and wrapping new stories around them rather than penning ‘Doctor Who does...’ episodes. A case in point is the penultimate episode of 2005 season, Russell T Davies’ Bad Wolf and its game shows played to fatal extremes, an idea surely motivated by the 1977 Judge Dredd story ‘You Bet Your Life’.

Indeed, Dredd’s informer, Max Normal, was caricatured in Davies’ 2007 story Gridlock, which also features virtual newscaster Sally Calypso, a derivative of virtual newscaster Swifty Frisco from 2000AD’s first The Ballad of Halo Jones series. And I have a sneaking suspicion Davies’ 2006 story Tooth and Claw owes much to Games Workshop’s RPG Golden Heroes and its add-on scenario pack Queen Victoria and the Holy Grail.

Doctor Who: Gridlock

Gridlock in Mega-City One: Max Normal, the Pinstripe Freak, observes the Doctor’s sonic vandalism. Will he tell Dredd?
Source: BBC

Meanwhile, Stephen Greenhorn’s 2007 story, The Lazarus Experiment sends The Quatermass Experiment through a teleporter into which has also slipped The Fly. Chris Chibnall’s 42, which followed The Lazarus Experiment in broadcast order, channels 24 into sci-fi - or at least the notion of a countdown through the series/story. The aerial ghosts of The Unquiet Dead surely owe much to the flying phantoms haunting the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The 2007 Christmas Special, Voyage of the Damned</i>, is The Poseidon Adventure. With Kylie.

Airing just before that, we have The Last of the Time Lords, the second episode of Davies’ Master reboot and which sees the Doctor light the villain’s funeral pyre with a burning torch just the way Luke Skywalker sets Darth Vador’s body a-burning, but the Master’s essence is squirted into a ring that is later carried away by a mysterious hand. Don’t tell me Davies has never seen the 1980s remake of Flash Gordon...

Finally, let’s not forget the Doctor and the Ponds’ scheme to record appearances of the Silence in biro on various parts of their anatomies bears an amazing resemblance to the ballpoint pen recording scheme employed by Guy Pearce in Christopher Nolan’s first feature, Memento. ®

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